Friday, October 29, 2010

Witch's brew and blackberry crumble

Halloween is right around the corner and tonight we will be carving our pumpkin...

The celebration of Halloween is pretty recent here in Italy and the commercial aspect is preponderant as this tradition really has no ties with the Catholic tradition except for its proximity to All Souls Day on November 2nd and the name (Halloween comes from All Hollows Eve - the evening before Hallowmas, all hallows mass, better known as All Saints Day. The name however possible also derives from the pre-Christian-era saying all allows even - the eve when all is permitted).  Originally, after its establishment in 610 A.D., All Saints was celebrated in May but it was then moved to November 1 in 1048 A.D. to try to overshadow the pagan Celtic celebration of Samhain, the end of summer. During this celebration, people left food out for the dead and it was believed that fairies and elfs played tricks on humans, which is where the trick-or-treat tradition comes from.

As a child, growing up in Italy, Halloween was our private celebration. My mother used to bring over decoration from NY and we we got dressed up and were allowed to invite our best friends for dinner. I remember Venetian children of the end Seventies being quite puzzled as to why they had to come to dinner wearing a costume, when clearly Carnival is in February, but kids will be kids and any opportunity to get dressed up and tell ghost stories is a good one. I also remember my nanny taking a boat and a bus out of Venice on a quest to find a pumpkin only to come back after half a day with a yellow, warty pumpkin no larger than a tennis ball that a distant cousin of hers had grown in his garden. These days, I no longer have that problem. Supermarkets are full of plastic gadgets and fresh orange pumpkins and some even sell pumpkin or ghost shaped cookies but the more traditional aspect hasn't really caught on, creating a bizzare jumble of practices. Clubs and bars have Halloween-themed parties making it more of a fun evening for students than children.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Oatmeal, chocolate chip & sour cherry cookies

I still have a large amount of rolled oats sitting in my cabinet left over from the fudge oatmeal bar recipe.

I like them, I really do, but whenever I buy them they end up shoved into the back of the cupboard, forgotten and abandoned after my initial enthusiasm. I didn't want that to happen this time. I didn't want to be that girl again. You know, the fickle one, the kind you meet at a party and you have a really fun time with, who makes you feel special by laughing at your jokes and hanging out with you for a while. The kind who really means it when they say "I'll call you" and then gets distracted by a newer, more interesting arrival. I betrayed my oat friends many a time. I fell for their simplicity and versatility, got all exicted about all the things we could create together: cookies, crumbles, hearty soups...why, even meatloaf! Only to forget about them when my eye caught something a little more exciting like a warmly scented, unknown spice from a far away country or a new glossy vegetable showing up at the market.

This time I am keeping my promise. I will not forsake you, my friends.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Trilogy: ragù, bechamel sauce and lasagne

The week end started pretty badly.

Our little one brought home some nasty germs from day care on Wednesday and by Friday the whole family was hit by the dreaded stomach flu. I woke up early feeling pretty awful only to remember that F was leaving on a business trip and staying away a day and a night.

I had two choices: give in to my feeling of impending doom and nausea or pretend it wasn't happening and go to work. I opted for the second in a moment of relative well-being only to regret it soon after. I had to get some urgent things done at work and decided I would rush home once everyone had left the house and lie in bed feeling sorry for myself. Until the call came: our older one revisited her breakfast just as they were walking out the door. Several calls ensued to organize a baby sitter and let husband leave during the craziest part of my work day (before the stock market opens at 9:00am). This, while feeling like worshipping the Porcelain God myself and dreading the 36 hours stretching in front of me alone with the kids. All I really wanted to do was curl up in fetal position under my desk and cry.*

Friday, October 22, 2010

Gnocchi di zucca - pumpkin gnocchi

I am sure you all know what gnocchi are, those soft potato dumplings that are divine with any sauce, from the simplest tomato and basil sauce to a lovely fresh pesto or any fancy combination you can come up with. Gnocchi are Italian comfort food, like most of their cousins all over the world.

Unfortunately, I have boarding school memories of heavy, sticky, hard-to-swallow ones that kept me at a distance for many years. I never really became a convert until I tasted my first gnocchi di zucca.

If you love pumpkin at its simplest, these are for you. Its orange, delicate autumn flavor is the star. They are quick and easy to make. All you need is five ingredients, a pot of boiling water and two spoons and you will make the softest pillows of buttery, cheesy sweetness you could ever imagine. 

Try these and make your family and friends an unexpected pumpkin dish for Halloween or Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The ultimate oatmeal fudge bars


On my daily blog crawl yesterday I noticed an oatmeal frenzy has hit the globe, from the States to Europe to New Zealand. I must have been hit without noticing, because on Friday I was on a quest to find rolled oats, not as easy a task as I though it would be. After searching a couple of neighborhood supermarkets, I finally came across them at our small local Asian store, of all places.

Once again, I was inspired by a recipe posted by a fellow food blogger, Ellen from Like Mothers Like Daughters.

WARNING: this dessert, like my brownie recipe, must be made ONLY for get-togethers, picnics, parties, brunches & BBQs, in other words for large congregations, so that you are sure you will not be taking home leftovers. It is so calorie-laden yet delicious, you absolutely DO NOT want it lying around your kitchen for hours days tempting you at every turn.

Stock up on ample amounts of sugar, chocolate, butter and condensed milk and get to work!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Tershi, a Libyan pumpkin dip

Thanks to another food blog I enjoy reading, Jasmine and Manuel's Labna (they mainly write in Italian but some of their posts are in English too), I discovered a great new African recipe. Hop onto a time machine with me and let's travel to the Libya of many centuries ago to discover a delicious dip made by the Jewish community of Tripoli.
It is called tershi or cershi and it is perfect to make this time of year, its main ingredient being pumpkin.
It is sweet, sour, spicy and aromatic. It is not for vampires or first dates as you should not go lightly on the garlic. I made it as an appetizer to eat with thick, crusty pieces of bread but I am sure there are a million other ways to eat it (couscous, meat, cheese, soups are just some of the things I would like to try with this new found love).

Hurry up and try it, you may discover a great new dish to surprise and impress your guests with at Halloween and Thanksgiving! And last but not least, if you have an overload of pumpkin in the house these days, Jasmine informs us that you can preserve it for later use.

Friday, October 15, 2010

T.G. I. F. gratin

Thank God It's Friday. It has been a long, busy week at work and I really am thankful for the week end stretching in front of me: I am looking forward to little feet pattering into our room in the morning, small warm bodies trampling piling on top of us, breakfast together and two whole days to spend with my family.

My Friday recipe is fish-based.

Wait, all this talk of being thankful to God and fish on, we are not strict Catholics, we are not churchgoers at all really. Our family is a mix of religions and cultures, not as common here as it is in other places. My family tree includes German protestants, Polish Catholics and New York Jews (of German descent). My husband's family is Sicilian Catholic and I too was brought up in Catholic Italy. So there is a reason why my parents and my husband&I decided to let our children choose their creed growing up. We do teach our children about God and values that are important to us but we try to do it with a broader scope, encompassing things we agree with in many religions. We want our children to grow up respecting and knowing more about other possibilities. I know many may disagree strongly and I realize broaching the subject of religion on  a food blog is perhaps inappropriate. I apologize if I am offending anyone in any way. The reason I am writing about this is because I believe strongly that food and the pleasure of sitting at a table with family and friends is something all cultures and thus all religions share and as a consequence I firmly believe that eating together and feeling the same enjoyment really is a way for people of different beliefs to grow closer and understand each other better. Isn't it true that we are what we eat, in all senses, and that teaching others the recipes we grew up eating is a way of teaching them to understand where we come from, our history and our heritage?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sudanese shorba

The thing I love the most about food blogging is that I get inspired to try things I normally never would. I love reading blogs from all over the world and enthusiastically absorb all I can from foreign cultures.

I know very little of is African cuisine. If you can actually even talk about a generalized African food culture as it ecompasses a great variety of foods. There are lots of African restaurants in Milan, with a preponderance of Eritrean and Ethiopian cuisine due to the unfortunate recent historical link between Italy and these countries. I have tasted their food and liked it and I have travelled to Maghreb and enjoyed their cuisine, but that is where my knowledge ends. I know close to nothing about Sub-Saharan African food.

Recently this one recipe kept on popping up everywhere around me. I first watched it being made on a British food show and was intrigued by the ingredients. It stuck somewhere in the back of my mind, although I had no recollection of the name or country of origin of this dish. Then, following the Foodbuzz Project Food Blog, I came across the same recipe in Joan's Foodalogue. There were those familiar ingredients! I was intrigued all over again. The idea of making a hearty vegetable and lamb soup (I love lamb) and giving it an extra twist by adding peanut butter and lemon juice at the end to thicken it up was suddenly irresistible to me. This had to be our Saturday dinner.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Crostata four hands


Friday evening has sort of become our baking day. It is a way for me and the kids to start celebrating the week end waiting for papa bear to get home. And to make something a bit special for our weekend breakfast.

Did you know that Italy is one of the very few countries in the world where they only eat sweet foods for breakfast? Nothing savory, not even a soft boiled egg. Forget bacon, sausages, beans, dim sum, cheeses, smoked fish or what have you. Here it is all about brioches, cake, cookies, cereal, yogurt, bread and jam.
We are quite international that way, switching pretty easily from bread and nutella to smoked salmon or bacon and eggs. But most of the time we have a sweet breakfast when at home.
During the week that usually means cereal, and when I say cereal I actually mean something as close as possible to the original grain, in color and sugar content. That is why making pancakes, brownies, cookies or any kind of cake is quite the treat on the week end.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Grilled eggplant and goat ricotta puree

I mentioned in my last post that in the morning, before getting all wrapped up in the LiveSTRONG initiative, I was getting ready to post a light, healthy recipe.

On Sunday our close friends C&R baby-sat our offspring and sent us off to a morning at a SPA. Not bad, huh? To then spoil us with a homecooked picanha (a Brazilian cut of beef) lunch.  
Now, we are not really SPA habitués, preferring to indulge in a meal in a restaurant over a hot tub (I am sure you knew that). But our four closest friends treated us to gift cards to this place just a few months after our  second child was born. I think they saw the dark circles around our eyes and decided we needed some quiet, alone time. Time passed and we never really got our act together. There was always some obstacle: finding a baby sitter, leaving the baby for more than a few hours, work...until we realized the gift cards were about to expire.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Lemon curd tart & Livestrong Day 2010

This is not the post I was going to write today.

I wanted to post about a tasty vegetable side dish I concocted a while back, something light and healthy that matched my mood of Sunday. But more about that in a later post.

Then I started my daily blog crawl and realized it was LiveSTRONG Day a couple of days ago. The LiveSTRONG foundation was founded by Lance Armstrong and supports patients and their families through their cancer experiences. Barbara, from Winosandfoodies, created one of the many events foodbloggers host to raise awareness and money. It is called A Taste of Yellow (yellow being the color of LiveSTRONG): the idea is to cook or bake something that is yellow with a heart theme and to photograph it.

I was very touched when I read about this and angry at myself for not knowing that LiveSTRONG Day was on October 2nd. I am such a new blogger I usually do not feel entitled yet to participate in all those big blogging community events out there. But this is different, if I had known I would have gladly participated. I lost a beloved family member to cancer many years ago. Two people I care about very much, a close family member and a very dear friend, have been diagnosed with cancer in the past 10 months. Cancer has become a recurrent thought in my life. These people and those close to them have been fighting with courage, strength and determination.

Then I read Barbara is postponing the deadline to submit recipes. And I realized that actually, without knowing, on the week end I had baked the first yellow thing I believe I have ever made in my life! This, surely, could not be a coincidence?

So forgive me if the recipe did not turn out as picture pretty as it should have. Forgive me if the photos are not great. Forgive me for adding a heart-themed picture when the cake was almost gone (thank goodness for leftovers). Because this is my way to send my support and thoughts to those I love and all the people out there fighting this battle.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Spaghetti all'Amatriciana

I still had some of that lovely guanciale (pork jowl) left over from my trip to the farmers market and decided to use it in one of the most traditional and well-known Roman dishes: pasta all'Amatriciana.
Before I started writing , I did some research and found out several things I was not aware of:

1. Amatriciana is not traditionally a Roman recipe. It originates from Amatrice, a mountain town in the province of Rieti, and was brought to Rome by its shepherds who used to move their sheep, goats and cows to the pastures around Rome in the winter and sold their products in the markets of the city.
2. Originally the sauce was called Gricia, or griscia, apparently from Grisciano, the name of a village near Amatrice. It is an ancient recipe, prepared long before tomatoes were brought to the Old World from America, and it is still made today.
3. The original recipe for Amatriciana does not include onions. Who knew? I have always made it with onions. If you want to be true to its origins, however, do not use any.